If you Google “Anhai, China” not a great many hits relevant to this town show up (though–Ha!–perhaps this blog will change all that).

One that does appear from time to time, however, contains a snippet of information about the Anping Bridge.

I’d been there before, but went for another visit recently with my Wife’s Younger Brother, a visiting Cousin and her Husband, my Niece and Nephew, and my 2-year-old Daughter.

The bridge, at one time the longest stone bridge in the world, is maybe 2.5km long (1.5 miles, we’ll say), the locals tell me, with a temple at the city entrance side, a temple halfway across, and…I don’t know what at the far end; we didn’t make it that far before turning back, since it was getting late and the bridge is reputedly a favorite haunt for robbers and other desperados after dark.

The water under the bridge is now low and filthy, looking almost chemically polluted, with lots of litter thrown onto the dry ground just below the bridge. Not the most scenic stroll in the world, we’ll say.

But the construction itself is what makes the bridge so interesting now (apart from being so old). I understand that it has been repaired over the years–maybe there are a few original stones left, maybe not–but the construction method is still the same as it was when the bridge was first built nearly 900 years ago.

And incidentally, the bridge is no longer a genuine means for getting into town, as there’s a newer “super bridge” not far away for all the motor vehicle traffic. Not many wayfaring strangers on foot, ox-drawn carts, and eunuch-borne sedans coming into Anhai anymore, I guess.

Here’s what the Chinese Ministry of Culture, via ChinaCulture.org reveals about the bridge, from http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_travel/2003-09/24/content_34379.htm:

Anping Bridge is located in the west of Anhai Town, Jinjiang County, Fuzhou City, Fujian Province.

Anping Bridge spans the bay between Jinjiang County and Nan’an County. Anhai County is also referred to as Anping County, hence the name of the bridge. Its construction lasted for 13 years, from the 8th year (1138) of the reign of Shaoxing of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). The now 2,255-meter-long and 3~3.8-meter-wide bridge was then 811 zhang (1 zhang = 3.3m) long and 1.6 zhang wide. The length was approximately 5 li (1 li = 500m), so it gained the other name of Five Li Bridge. It was the longest stone-beam bridge in China, even in the world during the Middle Ages.

The bridge was built with stone beams, the largest of which weighs 25 tons. The surviving 331 bridge piers are made of narrow and long stone pieces, and have three forms: the cubic, the semi-boat-shaped and the boat-shaped. The bridge was originally sheltered by Shuixin (in the water) Pavilion, Zhong (middle) Pavilion, Guan (authority) Pavilion and Yu (rain) Pavilion, and had been decorated with stone parapets, stone generals, lions and toad poles. However, the only extant pavilion is the Shuixin Pavilion, together with 13 surrounding stone tablets recording the bridge’s building and repairing history. Four symmetrically-distributed stone towers and a round tower stand in water at both sides of the bridge. The white bridgehead at the entrance is 22 meters high and has five storeys. It is hollow with the crossing section shaped in hexagon, and assumes a simple and unsophisticated style.

As the longest bridge in China before 1905, it enjoyed high reputation for its unparalleled span before Zhengzhou Yellow River Bridge was built. Anping Bridge commands a grandiose and spectacular view, and was regarded as a magnificent rainbow figure against the sky.

The ancient Anhai County was a commercial center and an important port. The construction of Anping Bridge played a significant role in the development of local economy and communications.

And here are some pictures I took during our stroll:

Looking back at the Anhai-side entrance:

Approaching one of the mid-span pavilions:

Scenes at the mid-point temple:

My attempted close-up on the construction detail: